The Capital city of Northern Ireland has plenty to offer visitors. I want to help you experience it, even if you don’t have much time! If you want to find things to do in Belfast, read on!
48 Hours in Belfast offers visitors a good amount of time to experience some of the best the city has to offer. But you need to come prepared.
This guide will give you a run through of some of the main attractions of the city and help you plan your trip. I wrote this guide to help you make the most of your time, I don’t want people wasting their limited time here, not knowing what to do.
Dive in and let’s talk about Belfast…
I love bringing people to Belfast, there is nowhere else quite like it. The capital of Northern Ireland has a rich history. Walking around the streets, you can see the wealth that the linen industry brought in and the shipyards that made the Titanic.
You can also see evidence of recent conflict and the spectacular recovery the city has made in a breathtakingly short amount of time.
The city itself has a very different feel to most other places on the island of Ireland. Remember this is a part of the United Kingdom. The currency is the British Pound and the post boxes go from green to red when you cross the border.
But today, that border is no longer militarised. The guard posts have been taken down and the island has undergone two decades of growth and revival.
If you want to better explore Belfast, I have created a map which includes everywhere I mention in this guide. This is a free tool that will help you orient yourself better in the city.
Before we talk about the fun things to see and do, we will have to talk a little about some of the important logistical information. Things like travel to Belfast and accommodation once you arrive. If you need more information on what to pack, I have a list of recommended travel gear for Ireland.
Getting to Belfast
There are plenty of different options when travelling to Belfast and exploring the areas nearby once you’re here. When you are planning your trip, try to find the transport option that suits you best.
I have written up a guide to getting around Ireland. Here, I talk a lot about getting to Belfast and the many different public transport options you have once you arrive.
If you are travelling directly to Belfast from abroad, the city is well-connected via air routes. If you are coming here from Dublin, there are a variety of rail and road connections between the cities.
For some quick information, you can check out the table below:
For your two days in the city, you will need somewhere to stay, and it has never been easier to find a good bed in the city.
Every time I go to Belfast it seems like a new hotel has sprung up out of nowhere. This shows the high demand there is to travel to this part of the world. It also means that you have a lot of choices when you arrive.
There are plenty of choices in hostels for backpackers and budget travellers and there are some great hotels that are far more comfortable. I have a complete list of my recommended accommodation in Belfast, if you want more detailed information on where to stay.
Now that we have all the boring, logistical information out of the way, let’s get into the fun part; what to do once you’re here. In this guide, I will talk about what to see, do and eat for two full days in Belfast.
We are going to have to start by talking about the famous “Ulster Fry”. This meal consistently ranks as the most popular dish in Northern Ireland. If you travel here, you really should try it. Provided you’re not a vegetarian of course! The meal consists of:
- 2 fried eggs,
- lightly browned potato and soda bread,
- pork sausages,
- crispy bacon,
- black and white pudding,
- 1 red tomato.
This meal is unique mainly due to the addition of the potato and soda bread.
While fried breakfasts are popular all over Ireland and Britain, most would agree that the art form has been perfected here.
No trip to Northern Ireland would be complete without at least one Ulster Fry and it would make the perfect beginning to our 48 hours in Belfast. The only question is; where to find the fry?
The Mad Hatter Café
This Location is popular among many different groups. Here you will find locals, students and fellow travellers alike. If you want a nice and affordable breakfast, then this is the place to go!
When you check this place out, make sure to come in a little earlier on the weekends. This is a popular spot, but it does tend to fill up on the weekends and public holidays, so plan accordingly!
St. George’s Market
This is the only remaining sheltered Victorian market in Belfast. It was constructed in the 1890’s by the city council and is still in use today! Over 300 traders will use the market on a regular basis, and it is one of the best places to do some authentic local shopping while in the city.
The market is closed during the week. But, on Fridays the Variety Market will open (between 6 am and 3 pm), this is when the majority of the 300 traders operate.
On Saturday between 9 am and 3pm, you will find the food market with the excellent fry. Then on Sunday, they open a mix of the two.
Get to Know the City First
Now that you are ready for the day it is time to learn a little more about the city that you find yourself in. I always advise travellers to get this done first thing in the morning after breakfast, whenever possible.
If you plan things this way you will be fresher and more able to take in the information. You will also have more time to spare later if your local guide tells you about anything interesting you haven’t heard of yet. Always try to find the local guides as soon as possible!
Belfast is a walkable city. The Cathedral district is centred around city Hall, here you will find a free walking tour company. Belfast Free Walking Tour is a new company that offers visitors to the city the chance to see it by foot.
This probably the best way to see the city and you will be able to ask your local guide any questions that you may have about Belfast, its history and their recommendations for your stay. Just remember to tip your guide!
Ireland is known the world over for its beautiful “liquid sunshine”, otherwise known as rain. If you find yourself in Belfast on a particularly dreary day, get out of the rain and head into city hall.
The exhibition here is a fantastic overview on the history of Belfast. It goes into detain on, not only the city, but also the famous figures that have come from here.
You can explore the beautiful building yourself or take a guided tour. The tours are regular throughout the day and start inside city hall. Show up about 15 minutes before the tour begins to secure your place on it.
I have a complete list of my favourite tours in Belfast, if you want more options.
After a hefty morning of fried food and history, maybe it’s time for something a little lighter for lunch? Here are my choices for some vegetarian food in Belfast.
This wrap fusion restaurant is a newer addition. Additions like this show the rapid, positive change the city has seen in recent years. More unique dining options have sprouted up across the city. At Kurrito you will find fresh and healthy fast food.
Prices are usually between £5-10.
If you want something a little more traditional, then I recommend Holohan’s Pantry. Here you can find a new take on traditional cuisine from all over Ireland, but mainly the north. This establishment focuses on seasonality and the menus that they offer change frequently throughout the year.
Prices are £5-20 per meal on their lunch menu.
To round out the first day of activity, it might be time to check out one of the most famous establishments in Belfast.
For decades in the 19th and 20th centuries, Belfast dominated the global shipbuilding industry. The White Star line was one of the biggest corporations in this sector and their most famous vessel was undoubtedly the Titanic.
She was built in Belfast’s Harland and Wolff Shipyards. Though they have long since stopped their production, in recent years they have turned their sights to the tourism industry.
The Titanic museum is built in the shape of a star, the logo of the White Star Line. Inside you will find a lovingly built museum, dedicated to the city of Belfast, the ship and the victims of the infamous naval disaster.
This tour costs €22 and goes into detail on the Titanic and its historical and cultural impact on the city. This ticket also includes a visit to the Nomadic, the only remaining White Star Line vessel in the world. I recommend you book online, as this museum often sells out, especially in summer.
One of the best pubs in Belfast also has one of my favourite restaurants upstairs. The Morningstar. Opened in 1810, this is one of the best traditional pubs in Belfast.
Located upstairs, however, you will find a great place to sit down and get ready for a night out in the city. This pub is off the beaten track down a small alleyway and is perfect for people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
Prices will be about £15-30 per meal.
If you are looking for something a little more upmarket, I would recommend any of Michael Deane’s restaurants. Michael held a Michelin Star for 13 years, longer than anyone else in Ireland.
He has opened a few restaurants around Belfast and has helped to revolutionize fine dining in the city. They are also located quite close to my suggestions on how to finish off your first night in Belfast.
Relax on Your First Evening
For an evening pint, I always tell people to check out “the Crown”. It is a Victorian pub located on Victoria Street (shockingly enough!).
This is probably the city’s most famous pub, built in the 19th-century style. This establishment offers people the chance to enjoy their drinks in private. All the tables are in small “snugs”, which are blocked off from the rest of the bar.
This pub was founded by an ardent Irish nationalist. To get around criticizing the British monarchy overtly, he decided to call his pub “the Crown”, and to put a mosaic crown on the floor as you walk in.
Thus, in order to go inside, everyone will have to walk all over the symbol of the monarchy!
If you can’t find anywhere to sit in this bar, Robinson’s is 2 doors up and offers an excellent alternative.
Victoria Street, where both the Crown and Robinson’s are located, is also home to a couple of other monuments in the city. The Europa Hotel across the road has the dubious honour of being the most bombed hotel in Europe.
This was where all the international journalists stayed during the Troubles.
Just up the road though, you will find Belfast’s Oprah Hall. Here you will be able to take in a show and experience an authentic piece of local life. Click here for information on upcoming shows.
Now its time you wake up, dust yourself off and get ready for another day exploring the capital of Northern Ireland. Today we are going to go a little deeper into the history of the area, including some recent events.
On your second day in Belfast, we should investigate how you can start to recover from last night. Here are a couple more options for breakfast.
The Coffee House Bistro
The Coffee House Bistro is one of the most popular cafes in the city. It serves the traditional Ulster Fry that you experienced yesterday. One of the differences here though is that these guys have a competition! But be warned, the “Giant Fry Challenge” is not for the faint of heart.
This place will get busy during peak hours, but it is one of the more affordable options in the city. Prices range from about £5-15 per meal.
Maggie May’s Botanic Café
This is a popular spot for locals, and you will usually find them here when friends are visiting from overseas. They serve breakfast all day, so if you really want that great Northern Irish meal at 5 pm, look no further than here!
They also offer vegetarian cuisine and have more options than many other family-run establishments in Belfast. Prices are normally £5-25 per meal.
Let’s get back into action and explore some of Belfast’s more recent history. This part of Ireland was racked by the Troubles from 1968 until the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
This was a sectarian conflict fought on ethnic, economic, religious and political lines. The media at the time over-simplified the conflict to one fought between Catholics and Protestants, but the truth resists simplicity.
Though thousands died in the fighting, it only ended 20 years ago. Most of the combatants are still alive and well. There have been a number of ceasefires since the 1990’s and in 1998 the fighting came to an end.
Today people who were members of groups like the IRA and the UVF will bring travellers around their city and talk about the fighting. They will tell you why they fought their neighbours and their own personal experiences. These tours are normally quite powerful.
Black Taxi Tour
These tours offer travellers the chance to explore large areas of the city with a guide who had first-hand experience of the conflict. They generally offer a balanced view of Northern Ireland’s recent history and help to bring a personal touch to what is often seen as distant fighting on the news.
This tour will not only talk about the history of the city, but you will also learn about a lot of the artwork you will see.
The murals in Belfast are striking and they are going to be one of the first things you will notice once you arrive in Northern Ireland.
Prices are usually about €70 per tour and last for approximately 1.5 hours. Click HERE to find more information.
Political Walking Tour
This is a more affordable alternative than the Black Taxi Tour. On this tour, you will have 2 different guides. The conflict was ostensibly fought between Republican forces, who wanted Northern Ireland to be free of British rule and to join the Republic, and Loyalist forces, who wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom.
On this tour, you will start with a 1.5 hour walk from a former Republican ex-political prisoner, followed by a 1.5 hour walk with a former Loyalist ex-political prisoner. This tour gives a balanced view of the conflict and shows both sides working with each other for the betterment of their city.
This tour will be about 3 hours long and will cover some of the main parts of the city’s recent history, including many sights like the murals.
This tour costs €21, but it does tend to sell out, book online to reserve your place.
Linen Hall Library
If you don’t want to experience some of the heavier moments of recent history, then you should head here. This is the oldest library in Belfast and the last subscribing library in Northern Ireland.
It has been home to some great literary collections from across Ireland and Britain, including some in the Irish language and works by Robert Burns. The tours offered here will delve into its rich history.
The library was originally founded in a pub in 1788 and since then it has witnessed all sorts of political and social upheavals across Belfast and the rest of Ireland.
Tours run here from Monday to Saturday at 11.30am. They only accept groups of up to 15 people, so it may be a good idea to arrive a little early.
After all that time learning about some of the struggles that Belfast has gone through in living memory, maybe it’s time to see one of its more recent success stories.
The Ginger Bistro was founded in the year 2000, since then it has consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the city. Located right next to city hall, this establishment will offer you the chance to relax right in the heart of things.
This location has been highly rated among locals and visitors to Belfast. And like all things mentioned in this guide, it’s location is in the map of Belfast.
No More Politics for the Rest of the Day!
Now that we have a better understanding of the unique history of Belfast and Northern Ireland, I think it’s time to relax.
This city offers plenty of great things to do that don’t involve any politics or war. This is something that too few visitors to Northern Ireland try to experience.
This part of the world has plenty of culture and beauty, let’s try to see a little of it this afternoon!
These are some of the most beautiful gardens in all of Ireland. Construction began at the beginning of the 19thcentury, but the real jewel of its crown wasn’t finished until 1840, the Palm House.
Its design was copied for the more famous glasshouse at Kew Gardens in London. All year long there are botanical displays from all over the world, particularly from South America, these gardens have been popular among people of all ages for over 100 years!
If you don’t fancy the gardens, or if you see too much “liquid sunshine”, then head indoors to the Ulster Museum.
This is a fantastic experience which follows the history of the northern province of Ireland. It goes into detail on the age of the dinosaurs, ancient life, and then into the modern period.
There are also collections from ancient Egypt and around the world. Admission is free.
For your last night in the city, let’s talk about a dinner place that tourists don’t normally go to. I want to help you stay off the beaten path and experience more of the real Belfast that locals like!
This restaurant recently opened in 2012 and has been serving some of the best Asian fusion food around. It is Chinese food cooked with as many local ingredients as possible.
This place is highly popular among locals for the quality of the food, but also its cocktail bar. This addition to the establishment offers some off the best drinks around.
If you want to have a good meal, then head out on the town, this is where I would recommend you go. Just make sure to book if you are arriving with a group!
For your final night in town, you should head to a few different places to find some quality Irish “craic”. Here is a list of a few places where people have been known to have the craic in Belfast.
The Dirty Onion
This bar is built in Belfast’s oldest building, dating back to 1780. Due to its former life as a spirit warehouse, this old building has partnered up with Jameson Whiskey to produce one of the best beer gardens in the city. If you want to get out there and chat to locals, this is a great place to do it!
This is one of the best traditional Irish bars around. If you chose to go here, you will be drinking in the same place that Irish revolutionaries have been since 1720 (though maybe not the same building). This is a cosy little gem in the city and the beer garden outside is excellent on a summer day.
Perch Rooftop Bar
If you want something a little quieter, I would suggest Perch. This is a newer addition to Belfast. This bar is on the roof of an old warehouse, you can take the stairs up if you want, or you can get in an old-school lift, operated by a member of staff!
Upstairs you will find a great bar with many kinds of craft beer and a smoking area with a retractable roof for long summer evenings and blankets and space heaters for those cool winter nights. This is one of my favourite places to go.